Sunday Sea-bathing.

Sunday morning was a strange one, as I looked out my window and was greeted with a blanket of mist across the countryside. I had arranged to meet a friend to go for a dip in the sea and I was starting to regret my decision. Luckily, as I drove closer to the sea, the mist was clearing to reveal blue skies and sunshine. The steps down to the water was bustling with sea swimmers, young and old. This was my first time in the sea since August and I was really excited but also not looking forward to the coldness of the water. I walked in slow to start and then jumped in…..it was a shock to the system to say the least!

It was thrilling and freezing. It was exhilarating and freezing. It was cleansing and freezing. And then finally the cold went away, my thoughts washed away with the waves and I was left with calmness. This moment made it all worth it, even though my feet were still tingling. With the sunshine on my face, the view of the misty Carlingford Lough, the Mourne and Cooley Mountains, the waves and the other swimmers, it was all pretty special. It was amazing to appreciate the sea like this when I am so lucky to live so close. Afterwards, my mind was clear and motivated and my body was relaxed and all aches and pains were gone. Nature really can be a healer, mentally and physically. Needless to say, I want to make this a regular part of my life!

I’ll be honest… I lasted less than 10 minutes but it’s a good start.

Frosty Mornings

I am really not a morning person, but I do love the crispness of a fresh, frosty morning. This morning was one of those mornings, with the sun shining and the frost and ice sparkling like diamonds. I grabbed my camera and my wellies and went out for a walk. That time between sunrise and the thaw is perfect and you really have to jump at the chance to enjoy it because you never know how long it will last.

So, I had a quick look around my garden, watching the birds and finding some cool ice formations. Then, I ventured uphill over my farmland. The lane slippery, the mud solid and the air freezing. With every breathe, I could feel the sharpness of the cold air, but I haven’t breathed deeper than this in a long time. I wanted to take it all in, the cold, the freshness; all of the goodness. The sun was shining so strong it was blinding and of course made all photography rather difficult. After some time, my phone battery died and my camera storage was full and I was just standing there taking it all in for myself.

I was looking over the frost covered fields and hills, finding myself hoping for a glimpse of some wildlife like a fox or a rabbit, but I am not that lucky. Instead, I seemed to be surrounded by Robins and Wood Pigeons, fluttering between trees and hedgerows, which was every bit as enjoyable.

At the farthest point of my farmland, you can just see the waters of Carlingford Lough and the Cooley Mountains, and they looked mighty beautiful this morning. The water was golden from the sun and the mountains were shrouded in mist and it all looked a bit magical. Carlingford Lough is probably my favourite place in the whole world and I feel very lucky to be able to see a glimpse of it from my backyard.

As I began the journey home, I realised that my timing was perfect as the light had changed so much in a short time. I returned home with muddy wellies and a clear head. I am really glad that I started my morning with a walk outside, I aim to do this more often, (New Years resolutions and all that).

ClichΓ© or not, it was a good day to have a good day.

Garden Surprise

As I looked out upon my garden, something caught my eye as it ran up stones, grass and a wall and finally rested on a stone right in front of me. My brain took some time to accept what my eyes were seeing. A Red Squirrel. It sped across my garden and it was gone as quick as it had arrived.

Red Squirrels can be found throughout forested areas in Ireland but have a much smaller population than the invasive Grey Squirrel. I have only ever seen Red Squirrels in Castlewellan Forest Park and Kilbroney Forest Park which both have old growth woods, mostly Oak. I know that a breeding pair were reintroduced in Silent Valley Mountain Park to encourage a new population in the area. I never expected to spot one of these amazing creatures so close to home. I live in a mostly agricultural landscape, I am surrounded by farmland with few large, old growth trees. It is not the usual habitat for Red Squirrels so this was definitely a pleasant surprise.

What made this moment even more special, was that I shared it with my 2-year-old nephew. I have been taking him out into nature all Summer long, showing him everything I possibly can and trying to pass on my love for the outdoors. When I squealed with excitement about the Red Squirrel, so did he and he couldn’t wait to get outside and see if we could find it. So of course, we got on our boots and grabbed our binoculars (Yes, he has toy binoculars to match mine) and went out in search of our new garden visitor. We were unsuccessful in tracking it, but I am determined to keep my eyes peeled for it again and would love to get a photo.

I love that you will always find something new, even in the places you think you know. No matter how many times you look at the same view, there will be something different, you might just have to open your eyes a little wider to notice it.

My first true ramble of Summer 2020

I am lucky enough to live in the Northern Irish countryside and have been out enjoying nature as much as possible during Covid-19. It has been great for exercise but mostly for my mental health during these stressful and uncertain times.

I have been out a lot on short, local walks but have mostly been focusing on running so I haven’t been on many hikes, so I finally made time for a proper ramble last weekend. It rained all day, of course, what else would you expect during June in Ireland, but there was a break in weather in the late afternoon so I jumped at the opportunity to get outdoors. I headed to Kilbroney Forest Park with the aim of reaching the Trig Point on the summit of Slieve Martin. The weather was fair; mostly dry but windy. I felt the full force of the wind as soon as I reached the Trig Point, and it was one of those experiences of quite literally being knocked back on my feet and taking my breath away. The view was beautiful, no matter the weather and was well worth the sparse rain I had to walk through. The skies were dark and moody over the shores of Carlingford Lough, threatening lightning that never came.

I was overcome with a strong sense of calm, gratitude and curiosity, I knew that I wasn’t ready to head home so I spotted a small trail among the Bog-Cotton filled Heather and began to follow it. I started to spot beautiful wildflowers like Common Cow-Wheat and Heath Speedwell and most exciting of all was the Lichen. I spent a lot of time last Summer collecting Lichen in Canada and it has really sprouted a passion to explore the species we have here. The Cladonia Lichens are the most interesting and my favourite so it was great to spot some Cladonia chlorophaea, Cladonia coniocraea and Cladonia floerkeana on tree stumps along the path. I followed this path, not knowing where it would lead and it was beautiful but after a while, I realized that it was a mountain biking trail so I shouldn’t have been walking on it but couldn’t find away off without heading back the whole way. Luckily it was late in the evening and there were no bikers using the path so I had it all to myself. The dark clouds cleared up and the wind died down a little as I carefully continued on. I watched the birds flying high above me and the ones that flew out of the heather close to my feet. I finally found myself on a forestry road, which took me through a sea of tall Pine trees and eventually led me back to where I had parked my car. I must admit, I wish I was brave enough to be a mountain biker because they have some of the best trails in Kilbroney Forest Park.

My own definition of a ramble is going out for a walk or a hike and just letting your curiosity control your destination. I like the feeling of not knowing exactly where I will end up and what I will find.

Get outdoors. Get a little lost. Find your path. Repeat.